When Civil War historian and preservationist Robert Hicks published his book the southern widow in 2005, she fictionalized the story of Carrie McGavock, who turned acres of her family’s home, Carnton Plantation, into a burial ground for Confederate dead after the Second Battle of Franklin, Tennessee. A bestseller, Hicks’s novel brought a forgotten chapter in Civil War history to a new generation of readers. Hicks’s novel is a work of fiction, but the true story of Carnton Plantation, Carrie McGavock and the cemetery she ran is just as fascinating.
Carnton Plantation, located in Franklin, Tennessee, was built between 1815 and 1826 by former Nashville Mayor Randal McGavock. Presidents James Polk and Andrew Jackson were visitors to Carnton, and McGavock built the plantation on the site of a Revolutionary War land grant that belonged to his father. Carnton originally consisted of about 1,420 acres.
Upon Randal McGavock’s death in 1843, Carnton passed to Randal McGavock’s son, John. In 1848, John married his first cousin, Carrie Elizabeth Winder. The couple had five children, but lost three of them in infancy, leaving only two, Winder and Hattie, to survive into adulthood.
Carnton was the essence of a prosperous antebellum plantation; Before the Civil War, the McGavock family’s net worth was $339,000, which adjusted for inflation, would be several million dollars in today’s currency. The plantation produced wheat, oats, corn, hay, potatoes, but was primarily a cattle plantation, raising cattle, pigs, and thoroughbred horses.
When the Civil War began, John McGavock, like many other planters, was exempt from service in the Confederate Army. He, Carrie, his two surviving children, and a handful of slaves (the remaining 30 slaves had been shipped south to family plantations in Louisiana and Alabama) remained in Carnton. John received the honorary title of “Colonel”.
The war twice came to Franklin and near Carnton; first in 1863, and then in 1864, during the second Battle of Franklin, the battle that would immortalize the McGavocks and Carntons as a sanctuary for Confederate dead.
The Second Battle of Franklin was fought in McGavock’s backyard, less than a mile from the house, on November 30, 1864. Confederate General John Bell Hood’s troops clashed with those of Union General John McAllister Schofield. in a bloody battle that dealt the Confederates a severe blow; Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee counted 7,000 men as casualties, including 1,700 killed, while Schofield’s counted 2,300, with only about 200 killed.
Like many houses in the area, Carnton was used as a hospital after the battle. However, the size of Carnton meant that the plantation housed more casualties than any other house in the area. When the battle was over, hundreds of wounded men were brought to Carnton.
It has been estimated that at least 300 men were cared for inside the Carnton house, and that many more were cared for on the extensive grounds outside the house, in tents or slave quarters, and in many cases on the ground. cold.
It was a horrible scene for Carrie McGavock and her children to witness and be a part of; McGavock and her sons assisted in the care of the men brought to their home, a home that today is stained with the blood of the men who were brought there, blood that was absorbed into the lush rugs, only to stain the hardwood floors below. . . Carrie McGavock’s dresses were reportedly smeared with blood at the hem for the next few days, and the nursery was turned into an operating room, with amputated limbs thrown out of the window to pile a high floor against the house.
Some 150 men died that first night in Carnton, for months the McGavock family cared for others who remained in their home. Carrie McGavock cared for the men herself, changing bandages, treating fevers, and writing letters home.